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Turning to Haiti

January 2004

Nisrin Elamin at the World Social Forum is a tough act to follow. I hope that those of you who had comments on Nisrin’s posts from Mumbai will send them directly to her or to “Grassroots Journal” via the link provided to the left. I hope you will also continue to check out our list of links, where we will be placing other analysis and reflections on this year’s World Social Forum.

I’m Kevin Murray, Executive Director of Grassroots International. In the spirit of sharing GRI’s experiences as a social change maverick among international NGOs, I will, over the next couple of weeks, reflect on our experience working in Haiti.

Grassroots began working in Haiti in mid-1991, right after the military coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide. I wasn’t working at GRI at the time, but I still remember sitting in a car on the Boulevar de los Heroes in San Salvador when the radio announced the coup. The press announcement, which came with the martial music of something direct from the press office of the Salvadoran military, went something like this:

“The Haitian army has left its garrisons to remove the pro-communist government of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has fled Port-au-Prince for an unknown destination. The military junta promises a rapid return to democracy in Haiti.” You’ll remember that the Salvadoran civil war was still going strong in 1991, and the country’s military exerted a powerful influence over all social institutions. While not a total surprise, this news was a great blow to anyone interested in social change in this hemisphere.

Soon thereafter, U.S. Haiti solidarity activitsts asked GRI to conduct a fundraising campaign to support Haitians doing very dangerous underground work against the coup, including a project to create a clandestine opposition radio station. Grassroots decided to do just that, and we have been involved in Haiti ever since. Take a look at our current Haiti partners and projects.

Much water has passed under the bridge since May 1991, and many of the people who were willing to die at that time to keep alive the dream of a Haiti led by Aristide now see the enigmatic ex-priest in a very different light. Going through such a transition with people is always a very challenging thing for an organization like Grassroots. More about that as the days pass…

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